Top 50 Power Showrunners 2011
Bill Lawrence stands in front of a large dry-erase board inside Cougar Town headquarters -- situated in Bungalow S at Culver Studios -- on which a future episode of season three is charted out like an oversize spreadsheet.
Knowing their leader is being observed this morning, the writers are in top form."Hey, thanks for not yelling at us today, Bill," one shouts from the back of the room. MADtv alum Michael McDonald chimes in."Usually we break into groups based on race, but we won't do that today," he says, cracking up Lawrence as we walk outside to the set. "If a comedy writer ever complains about his lot in life," he says. "You have my permission to smash in his face."
It's easy to envy Lawrence. The William & Mary graduate was co-running a hit series in New York -- ABC's Spin City -- at 26, under the tutelage of one of the genre's masters, Gary David Goldberg. "I had peroxide hair back then -- such an idiot -- but Gary literally sent me to showrunning camp," says Lawrence, 42. " 'This is how you block shows. This is how you talk to actors.' " Six years later, Lawrence had another hit in NBC's goofy single-camera comedyScrubs, a transition the Connecticut native says was tough because "I didn't delegate very well. But by the end I'd realized, just hire talented people and let them do their jobs -- what a concept."
A decade later, Lawrence has settled into his most recent stint as the mayor of Cougar Town(which may or may not be getting a new name, depending on the mood of Lawrence's Twitter feed). Today, the set is just outside the writers room, with the Culver lot transformed into a suburban Florida mall replete with realistically tacky peach-accented architecture. Star and producer Courteney Cox sits at a makeshift cafe table with co-stars Josh Hopkins and Christa Miller -- who happens to be the boss' wife -- and their 5-year-old son, Henry, who's home sick from school and sitting on his mom's lap. The actors rehearse a scene while Lawrence stands and watches quietly from the wings. Ten minutes later, he offers a casual appraisal -- "Hey, that's funny, nice work" -- and then returns to the writers room to hash out some logistics with producer Randall Winston."I think we can shoot six pages at the beach, two in the parking lot," says Lawrence. "It won't be as expensive, which I like."
By 11:40 a.m., Lawrence is inside his quiet private office reflecting on his workplace philosophy: "It's a strict no-asshole policy. The only way to lose your job is to be a jerk." His own shortcomings: "I take everything too personally and stick my nose in people's business." And, his favorite topic, the Emmys: "They are 99 percent a sham now that Steve Carell never won," he says. "I really don't care, though, which makes it definitive that I'll never win anything."